Apparently, Ontario has the same New Year’s Resolution as your roommate: to shed a few pounds. As of January 1, 2017, Ontario’s new Healthy Menu Choices Act, 2015, requires that all food service providers within the province with 20 or more locations post the caloric value of all menu items (including drinks) right on the menu. This act is a part of a larger piece of legislation, the Making Healthy Choices Act, passed on May 26, 2015, and effects not just fast-food restaurants, but includes movie theatres, coffee shops, and ‘fast casual’ restaurants as well. The Healthy Menu Choices Act was designed to combat obesity, and create more awareness about ingredients in food so as to encourage more informed decision-making concerning food.
But will it work? Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, sees this act as a quick-fix solution to a more complex problem, stating, “singular interventions don’t solve complex problems. When it comes to diet-related disease, like Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension […] these are not caused by single problems. We need a myriad of interventions designed to help deal with it.” In addition, there is concern that while calorie counting on menus may make a very small impact on the lives of those who suffer from obesity and related diseases, it may bring more harm than good on an already overly food critical society, and may be triggering to those suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
In New York City, where food-labeling laws at restaurants have been required since 2008, they have found (in a 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health) that there was little to no difference in food consumption choices in New Yorkers since their laws came into effect. Though Ontario is the only province to have undertaken these measures, Nova Scotia and
Quebec has expressed similar interests. According to Statistics Canada data, 54.6% of Ontario residents over the age of 18 were overweight or obese in 2014, whereas Nova Scotia’s rate stood at 62.6% — among the highest in the country. The chief public health officer of Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Strang, has strongly supported the Ontario legislation, stating that “I think we do need to look at…having better information on there to allow consumers to make better informed choices around the nutritional or health value of the food they’re looking to buy.” Despite his support for the Ontario HealthyMenu Choices Act, Dr. Strang proposes a more comprehensive approach for Nova Scotia, including not just the amount of calories in a food item, but the amounts of sodium, fat, sugar, and other important components which contribute to an item’s nutritional value. This program has the potential to be more successful than that of New York or Ontario.
Whether you agree with the measures Ontario has taken to combat their province’s obesity rates or not, it is hard to disagree that Nova Scotia’s own high obesity rate is concerning, and needs to be addressed.